Housing woes add to families' problems

ROBIN RAYMOND
Last updated 11:30 08/10/2012

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Cold, damp rental houses in Marlborough are adding to debt and budget worries for families who are in financial trouble and are leaving it too late to seek budget advice, the Marlborough Family Budget Service says.

During the past year the service has seen more than 300 clients and the volunteers who work there were stretched, co-ordinator Fiona Patrick said.

While the number of clients the service saw was similar to the previous year, the cases were more complex and advisers were working longer hours to cope, she said.

Many clients had reached a crisis, unable to pay bills or afford groceries, while most also had complex debt problems as they borrowed from one person to pay another or keep afloat and built up new debts.

"The economic recession has meant more people than normal are finding themselves made redundant, or their working hours reduced.

"When you haven't got savings to fall back on, this can be extremely hard to deal with."

While the situation was similar to other areas of the country, high winter power bills and winter illnesses had made things worse for many of the Marlborough clients, she said.

"For a lot of them it's the houses they're living in. A lot of them are renting and the houses aren't well insulated or maintained. They're cold, damp places that don't have good heating. People don't put that money aside and they get to winter and they're hit with a $300-400 power bill."

It was also harder to change power companies after a sharing agreement where companies can check if someone has a debt with another power company, she said.

"If they have energy debts it's harder to get power with another company and we're going to see more issues with that in the next year or two."

Most clients cases were resolved within six months during which the clients were able to solve large amounts of overdue debt, she said.

The service would like to see more clients, she said, but it wanted to see people earlier, changing the mindset of people in Marlborough who saw budgeting advice as a last resort.

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- The Marlborough Express

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